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Ancient Canaanite DNA Linked to Modern-day People of Lebanese Descent

The new archeological site unearths rare secrets about the elusive people who lived around Lebanon in ancient times.

The Levant region is arguably one of the most important regions concerning human civilization as many major ancient kingdoms including ancient Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Greeks, Canaanites, Romans, and Persians among others originated from here. These kingdoms left many records from which archeologists have been able to establish their way of life with Canaanites being the only notable exception. Remarkably few records exist that can be traced back to these ancient people, and few archeological sites have been unearthed and attributed to Canaanites.

Canaanite Secrets Exist Near Sidon

According to the Los Angeles Times, in the last 19 years, a team of archeologists have been unraveling Canaanite secrets hidden for thousands of years at the Sidon excavation site situated in the Lebanon’s third largest city, Sidon. Archeologists have excavated 160 burial sites from this single excavation site from which they obtained numerous skeletons from the Bronze Era. Tests conducted on the skeletons show that they were over 3,700 years old. The skeletons from the necropolis are believed to be those of ancient Canaanites and this helped archeologist to get a glimpse of their burial rituals where young children were buried in clay jars while adults were buried in the sand.

After obtaining these well-preserved skeletons, scientists then went a step further and tried to get a genetic link between the current residents of Lebanon and the ancient Sidon inhabitants. Evolutionary geneticists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, led by Chris Tyler-Smith and Marc Haber, conducted the genetic analysis using new DNA sampling techniques. In the study, geneticists relied on genomes from five skeletons dated to be about 3,700 years old as well as genomes drawn from 99 individuals from modern-day Lebanon. These people were chosen to represent the diversity in Lebanon and included persons from the two largest religions in the country (Islam and Christianity).

Common Ancestry Found Amongst Ancient Peoples

In the first test, the researchers aimed to assess the ancestry of the ancient Canaanites and what they found was that ancient Canaanites shared a common ancestry with other ancient Levant civilizations including Phoenicians, Israelites, and Moabites. In the second test which aimed to identify the ancestry of modern Lebanese people, the DNA analysis showed that despite being separated by more than 3,700 years, the Lebanese genome shared as much as 93% of its composition with the genome drawn from the ancient Canaanites. Another interesting finding from the genetic analysis was that the Lebanese people have been isolated from other communities for thousands of years.

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